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About this series
Overcoming the Pain of Your Past
Pain. It is part of the human experience, and one of the things that helps us grow to maturity. But for some of us the pain we have experienced feels crippling. Broken promises, dysfunctional families, damaged relationships and rejection keep us from experiencing the abundant life Jesus promised. Sometimes it's a challenge just to get through the day, let alone to extend love and strength to those around us. The Bible, however, offers great hope for pressing on. From the book of Ephesians, learn who you really are and why the pain of your past doesn't have to obscure God's plan for your future.More from this series
Principle number two: Realize that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. It’s what, I mean to those Jews he’s saying, “That’s where you’re from,” to the Gentiles, “This is where you’re from,” it’s level. What makes you acceptable, what makes you worthy is what Jesus has done for you.
There is absolutely no basis to feel superior, to judge any human being with regard to their value, their worth, their suitability, their inclusion in your group on the basis of their race, or cultural background, or speech, or geography, or gender, or personal history, or dress.
God, I think, has a very unique sense of humor. I grew up in the suburbs. Okay? I mean both mom and dad are schoolteachers, the suburbs are, some of you will really get this, you know, the houses are real close together and you have driveway, little lawn, driveway, little lawn.
When you’re a little boy you go out, and every driveway is a first down. You play football in the front yard, the neighborhood school… everyone can almost walk to it. There are outdoor basketball courts, you live on asphalt, you play in the front yard, everyone knows one another, pretty white… you start out lower middle class, then I think we kind of made it to middle, middle class.
And that was just my whole world. Large, white suburb outside of Columbus, Ohio. And then, because of my passion for basketball, I ended up in the inner city a lot, and developed a lot of relationships with African Americans and then playing ball and going overseas. That became, actually, my mother once said, “You know, you look pretty white on the outside but your culture is all black on the inside.” All the music I listened to and all my friends, but it was just my world.
Well then, you know, you go to school and I meet Theresa and I want to be a basketball coach and God says, “That’s a good plan but not the best plan so I want you to coach the church, I don’t want you to coach basketball.” So, oh boy, you know, we went to school, went to grad school, and now I gotta go to seminary. You gotta be kidding.
So, we go to seminary and in our very first church in seminary is called Country Bible Church, thirty-two miles outside of Dallas. And I entered a world that I didn’t know existed. Okay? I mean, there is a town square, you know, and there are still the little circles where they put the horses. There are no, it’s less than three thousand people and there is one main drag, no stoplights.
And people, they pull up in their trucks, there are guns, real guns that shoot in the back of them. I mean, guns scared me, I’d never even seen a gun before.
And people had John Deere hats. I thought John Deere was a lawnmower. And I just realized… And there were two restaurants, one on the one end of town and one on the other end of town: The Feed Store and the Wagon Wheel.
And when you walked into The Feed Store or the Wagon Wheel, “My breakin’ heart is a’lovin’ you, darlin’,” and it was just like, “Oh, Jesus, deliver me!” Now, I have come to like country music but, it was like, “Are you kidding?”
And then I’d meet these young guys and I thought it was a style, they had these little circles in the back of their jeans. I thought, “Where do you get the jeans with the little circles?”
And where I come from you have a coke can to drink out of. They carried coke cans to spit in! I mean, literally, it’s like, “Ahhhhh!” you know? And then I thought… for those of you who are wondering what the circle is, this is Skoal and you put it in your cheek and all day, like this, and they talk to you like this all the time, [spitting sound], talk to you like this [spitting sound], like this all the time.
And, and so let me tell you something, I walked in and I still remember a guy, he would literally be, in my prejudiced view, let me just say this and get this out, an old geezer. John Deere hat, something in his jaw, I walk in, and in this kind of a whisper, “There is that new preacher boy, Country Bible Church!”
And I’m thinking, “God has sent me to purgatory.” And I’m serious. Now let me fast forward. In my journey there, that church taught me how to be a pastor, that church loved my wife and kids.
What I realized was the problem wasn’t with the guy with the John Deere hat, the problem wasn’t with those kids with the Skoal, the problem was in my arrogance and prejudging, I’m a suburban kid, I think everyone who looks or acts like that in any way is a redneck. Okay?
And now, I’m better than they are, I’m just telling you, this isn’t like what I ought, this is how I thought. I’m better than these people, I’m smarter than these people, I’m more sophisticated than these people, and God dropped me in this land of losers, except for all the people at the church owned all these businesses in Dallas, so I got all these rich, wealthy, powerful people, who I really respect, and I’m living in this town of, like, you’re kidding me!
And then, over the next eight years, I got to know some guys in John Deere hats. And I got to know a man who had one of his fingers cut off, who I watched God transform his life from literally a racist to watching him, as we built this church and God worked, and we kept a woodworking area, where I watched him teach little, black kids how to make things.
And how we partnered with a black church across the street, and how we took the old gym that was condemned and remodeled it. And Blacks and Whites and Hispanics played basketball and then, Young Life used it on Monday night.
And here’s what I realized. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. And the problem wasn’t them. The problem was me.
They loved God. You can love God and spit in a can. You can love God and wear a John Deere hat. You can love God and have a gun in the back, and get on a horse, and then put on your nice clothes and be a businessman.
You know what? It was just a different culture. But, in my insecurity, I judged their culture as inferior because it was too threatening. And I gotta tell you, one of the greatest things that happened in my life was learning to love those people.
Realize, the ground is level at the foot of the cross. You’re not better than anybody. And in our defense, we all do this. This is not do you do this? We’re only talking about to what degree. It’s your defense mechanism. We all do this. And we just do it in different ways to different groups.
Third point from verses 17 and 18 is let your walls come down. Jesus said He destroyed the dividing wall! So, let your walls come down. Examine the unbiblical ways that you tend to prejudge others.
That’s the whole deal. Prejudice, it’s just prejudging. What’s the Scripture teach? Scripture teaches, “God doesn’t see as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, the Lord weighs the heart.”
How many of you can see anybody else’s heart? You can’t see in someone’s heart through the color of their skin, you can’t see someone’s heart through what automobile they drive, or what kind of jewelry they have, or don’t have or whether they have a tattoo or a piercing.
You can’t see someone’s heart because they’re Reformed, or Dispensational, or Charismatic, or Pentecostal, or Baptist.
You can’t see their heart, you don’t know what they believe, you don’t know where they’re coming from, you don’t know where they’ve been. But God does. So you gotta let the walls come down.
That was phase one of my journey, and I don’t think the phases ever end but phase one was learning to love very country, John Deere, pick-up truck with guns people. And I think God said “You still have a lot to learn, so let’s try something else. And so I’m going to take you…” you think the leaders of this church either had a lot of faith or were completely naïve.
Let’s see, “This guy has been in that community, he’ll fit perfectly in Santa Cruz, California.” Okay, now, you need to understand, California, land of fruits and nuts; Santa Cruz is not only the epicenter of the earthquake, it’s the epicenter of alternative culture.
And whatever alternative could or may mean, multiply it by a hundred. It has the highest per capita of lesbians of any city in America, it has a university called The University of California at Santa Cruz that thinks Berkeley is way too far right.
It has, it’s just weird. I mean, all the hippies of the sixties, they have not heard the sixties left, so they moved to Santa Cruz and they’re downtown. I mean, literally, you can get off a bus, usually the mayor is kind of a socialist on a good day and probably beyond that on a bad day.
And so you can get off a bus, and in about four or five hours get public assistance and say, “You know, I live under that little park bench. That’s where I live.” “Well, great! Well, here’s some…” I mean, it’s a wild place. There are street musicians everywhere and there are more tattoos per square inch in that place.
So here I am. I finally can love a John Deere hat guy with a gun and then I walk in and here’s, like, “Oh my gosh.” You know, these two girls are holding hands and kissing in the restaurant over here, and then the guy with the dreadlocks over here and, it’s just like…
And then, there is this individualism, entitlement… In certain parts of the country, like Chicago, if you step out on the walkway and don’t look, what happens is you get killed. Bam! Right? Okay, in California in general pedestrians are the heroes. I mean, you hit someone on a crosswalk, they just shoot you right there. You know?
Well, in Santa Cruz it’s on steroids. So, the bike path is, holy, holy. And then the pedestrians are the holy of holies. So, people just walk around and you slam on your brakes, and they don’t even look at you. It’s just…
So, I’m there two years, I don’t even like these people. I’m supposed to pastor and love these people, I don’t like them. And their lifestyles and their piercings to me was what you do when you put bolts together… not in the nose, and in the tongue, and in the…
And I was there about two years and …you know how you’re inside… I’m frustrated. Man, what’s with these people? Why don’t they get a life? Everyone is New Age this, crystals are everywhere, and you go to a coffee shop and, here’s how to… our witch, or warlocks meet… and we’re casting…
And it was just like, “Kaufman was awesome, Lord!” You know? And satanic cults… There are more satanic bookstores there than probably any place other than Boulder, Colorado maybe Sedona.
And I just have to tell you, that it was, again, I guess eighteen months to two years is my… the Holy Spirit can tell. And I remember one day someone walking across like that, and I’m in my car, and you know when you’re talking out loud in your car? Not a good sign.
“What’s with these people, God? I don’t really... You know, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah. And… look at this and… and there is immorality here and…” And, I just literally… the Spirit of God said, “Chip, I love these people. I love these people. I brought you here. I want to love them through you.”
And I think there are times where we just have to repent. And I remember just thinking, “You know who the unholy person here is? You know who the person that has big needs? It’s not the people tattooed, or pierced, or with Rastafarian hair, or – it’s me!” I prejudged everybody!
See, when you’re in the suburbs you kind of have this, “We’re, you know…” everyone does this about life. Like, these people are over here, and these people are over here, and here’s what you are, you’re in the middle, balanced. It’s what you do! We all do it. Right?
And so our suburbs… well, oh, redneck land over here… liberal, wacko, satanic, I’m not even sure what to call it land over here.
And I think God gave me and our family the gift… and I remember after a period of time… and part of it was I was teaching and working through this and asking… the only way… you can’t will yourself into this. So, “God, will you give me Your love?”
So, I started memorizing verses, “Man sees not as God sees,” and there in 2nd Corinthians 5, he talks about, “For even though we knew Christ according to the flesh we know Him thus no longer,” speaking of not judging people on the outside and so I’m memorizing verses, asking God to help me, help me to love people.
And so I’m preaching, I’m there about three years and I’m starting to make some progress and there is this guy, and he’s in a dress. That’s a little over the limit for me. And he’s got the dreadlocks down to about here, and he’s on the front row. And as I’m teaching, he’s smiling, with this sort of goofy smile. “Yeah,” nodding his head. And I’m just thinking…
So, I get done and where I was you can never make it to the back of the room. You just come down and people talk and you share. And so I get done and this guy starts coming towards me and I’m thinking, “Oh my.”
And he has this woven hat, and the dreadlocks, and this dress, multi-colored, and I don’t know where he’s from. By the time he’s three feet from me, the last bath he had was many, many months ago.
“Brother Chip! Thank you so much!” And he hugs me and just holds me. And he goes, “I just have to tell you,” he said, “I live out on the streets, it’s where God’s called me to be but I’ve been listening to these CDs and things and God is, I just had to come and, thank you so…!” He’s a missionary.
We later called him Dan, Dan the Hippyman. And he played the flute and he was really good. And later we got into doing some discipleship and he walks across America. Literally walks! Shares Christ with everyone who could breathe. Sleeps outside on purpose.
And then he gets about halfway across America and he ran into a couple cults and I don’t know how he did it but he emailed me and said, “I got a question about this, this, this, and this.” And I said, “Dan, Dan Hippyman, maybe you need a little bit more training because, man, you’re in over your head and I can’t do this long distance.”
So he walks back, hangs out at the church for another two or three years, gets some training, meets a girl that’s as weird as he is! And she dresses the same way. They get married and are called by God to be homeless street people in Europe to share Christ.
And if you met him, believe me, initially, you would be afraid. And I will tell you, I don’t know that I have met anyone that has a purer heart toward God.
We need to recognize where we came from, number one; we need to understand the ground is level at the cross, number two; we need to let the walls come down, number three; and then reconciliation in God’s family is not an option to be considered but a fact to be experienced.
This is not, “Wouldn’t it be nice if we were this way?” Jesus did it! He broke down the wall. He expects every child of God, every son, every daughter, to be wall breakers - to see people the way He sees people.
I was in South Africa after Apartheid and had the privilege of doing ministry there. And we have a team that we partner with there, and they do these church-wide campaigns with Romans 12.
And one of the ladies there who is on the board of that group, and was with the Secret Service when Mandela came out of prison. She is a white lady, about 6’1” and when she told me she was with the Secret Service, I believed her.
And she carried a gun and everything but… It’s kind of like, “Pass the butter, honey, but I’m not messing with you.” And she talked about how Mandela would not allow his Secret Service to be all black.
And he just refused to let people… He said, literally, “The dividing wall is broken.” And he got pressure from both groups. People who sinned… he had counsels where they had to own their sin and confess their sin, but he brought about a revolution in South Africa with the most minimal bloodshed of any revolution that’s occurred anywhere, because he was a man of peace.
And he forgave and he didn’t judge people. And she said, “I was treated by him…” She said, “I was on the inside. Everywhere he went, I went. And the Blacks would scream, ‘How could you let those Whites do this, after what they’ve done to us?’” And he said, “Is it any less evil if we do that back to them? We’re going to overcome evil with good!”
I think God wants us to be little Jesus-Nelson Mandelas, in our worlds and show people that how they judge things is totally unacceptable to us who are followers of Christ.
We refuse to prejudge people because reconciliation isn’t an option. It’s a reality.
And finally, recognize that God’s presence dwells where unity prevails. I mean, isn’t it amazing when you see people that you kind of look at them and you realize, “Something is very different about this picture.” And whether it’s rich and poor, or whether it’s White and Black, or whether it’s Baptist and Pentecostal, you know?
But when you see people break out of the stereotypes and love one another, the fragrance and the presence and the power of Christ is unleashed and revealed.
And I personally, I don’t want to be a prisoner of my prejudice and I don’t want to be a person who exports change to other people, by making them feel less than, or unworthy, or unacceptable, because in my arrogance I’ve somehow treated them as though there is something wrong or inferior, because they don’t look like me, or sound like me, or believe like me.